Pubs, beards, riots and reggae: Hackney Society’s ‘Portrait of a Community’ launch marks 50 years of the borough
- Credit: simon mooney
The Hackney Society was born 50 years ago to preserve the borough’s history. But a hefty book marking its half-century proves there’s more to heritage than old buildings. Emma Bartholomew, one of the tome’s authors, reports on its launch.
A book two years in the making that charts Hackney’s transition as one of the poorest places in greater London to one of the trendiest places in the world has finally been published, to celebrate the golden anniversary of the Hackney Society.
Hackney: Portrait of a Community 1967-2017 breaks down the past 50 years into 50 stories written by 50 authors.
Most of them – including me – were at its launch at the Town Hall on Wednesday last week, where we saw the book for the first time, hot off the press after a breakdown at the printer’s threatened its completion date.
Authors who have drawn on their own experiences have covered subjects from regeneration, swimming pools, pubs, beards and theatres, as well as darker topics like the 2011 riots and Clapton’s notorious Murder Mile.
Lisa Shell, chair of the society’s planning group, read an extract from her chapter about the demolition of heritage industrial buildings in Corsham Street in 2014 – against the judgement of Hackney Council’s own conservation officer, who ended up quitting her job. And Winstan Whitter read his chapter about the legendary Four Aces reggae club, which was served a compulsory purchase order in 1998 and demolished to make way for Hackney Council’s high-density high-rise Dalston Square development.
Hackney Mayor Phil Glanville told the audience he would relish giving copies of the book for Christmas: “The format is ingenious, breaking down dense and complex history into a series of personal accounts that are fascinating to read,” he said.
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“They weren’t just telling stories – they were part of that history. There’s so much here that all of us care about. So much change. Some stuff stays the same, some stuff evolves and I think broadly things do get better.
“The Hackney Society’s members have championed our history when few were. Sometimes they have fought the council and at times we have been at one to preserve the future fabric of this borough.”
Commissioning editor Laurie Elks told the Gazette: “When I look back on my life I think it’ll be one of the more worthwhile things I’ve done.” The three most surprising things to him charted in the book include the “motorway box” that threatened to rip Hackney apart until the idea was scrapped in 1973, the railway line to Dalston and Hackney Central that was only a pipe dream when he first came to a “cut-off” Hackney in 1972, and the three-year “strange interlude” when the Tories ruled Hackney from 1968.
He said: “If we look at what was going on with [student leader] Daniel Cohn-Bendit and the Paris barricades on one hand and the voters in Hackney on the other, you have to make what you will of what was actually going on ideologically and spiritually in ’68.”
He told the crowd last week: “I’m sure another editor could have come up with different stories and there are quite a few that slipped away for various reasons.
“It may just be me, but my heroes are disruptors. Not the Silicon Valley types who use algorithms to bypass competition and individuality, but young leftist types with a vision for the future.
“Stuart Weir, who is no longer young but was young in 1968 when he led the fight to save De Beauvoir; Roland Muldoon, who made a very personal campaign to save the Empire; Glenn Thompson, whose dream created Centerprise; Mike Gray, the first chair of Chats Palace and saving chief of Sutton House; the transport enthusiast Roger Lansdown who went along putting stickers on every other lamp post saying ‘the missing link’.
“They are no longer young and some of them are no longer with us, and I’m not sure who the next generation of heroes are, and that’s probably just me showing my age – but I hope someone will do this again in 2067.”
Mr Glanville said he hoped he would one day be considered one a young leftist disruptor. The response was muted.